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coal-gas, when perfectly pure, is entirely consumed by burning; but, unfortunately, the gas which is generally burnt is not pure, and, therefore, is not entirely consumed, but gives out an exhalation which chemists call sulphuretted hydrogen. Dr. Hodgkin, speaking of this gas, in his lectures “ On the Means of Preserving Health,” says, that “ when undiluted it is one of the most active poisons with which we are acquainted.”
Thus we see that these young men are compelled to breathe an atmosphere which gradually becomes more and more impure; until in the evening, and especially late in the evening, it becomes positively and actively pernicious. The results of such a state of things may be easily inferred. The lungs imperfectly perform their functions; as a necessary consequence, the blood is only partially oxygenised, or changed from venous into arterial; the circulation becomes sluggish ; all the secretions are rendered impure by the impurity of the blood ; digestion is impaired; the muscular system is weakened ; and the whole physical constitution becomes in a greater or less degree the subject of chronic disease. Mr. Thackrah, whose work on “ The Effects of the Principal Arts, Trades, and Professions, on Health and Longevity,” is so highly esteemed by the medical profession, thus writes : “The atmosphere which shopkeepers breathe is contaminated ; air with its vital principles so diminished that it cannot decarbonise the blood, nor fully excite the nervous system. Hence, shopkeepers are pale, dyspeptic, and subject to affections of the head. They drag on a sickly existence ; die before the proper end of life ; and leave a progeny like themselves.” This is the language of a professional man, who had devoted much time and attention to an investigation of the subject, and who was therefore eminently fitted to pronounce an opinion upon it.
Another most important requisite to health is EXERCISE, active exercise in the open air.
Now the present system of keeping shops open until late at night entirely prevents the shopman from benefiting himself in this respect; since it allows him no time for doing so after the business of the day is over, and makes it difficult, if not impossible, for him to rise sufficiently early to take a walk in the morning. Sometimes, indeed, he has to go to a neighbouring square or street, to serve ladies at their own houses ; but this little advantage is chiefly confined to the higher class of shops, and is so seldom enjoyed that it can only be regarded as an exception to the rule. But then it may be urged that their occupation furnishes them with exercise, inasmuch as they are continually moving about behind the counter. This objection somewhat overstates the fact, for during a large portion of the day they are only standing, being engaged either in putting the goods straight, or in discoursing upon the merits of some article at which the customer may be looking. But, even if the objection be admitted without qualification, to what does it amount ? Only that, to use the words of Mr. Thrackrah, they are “all day on the move, yet never in exercise ;” always engaged in what wearies the body, but never in that which invigorates. The movements of the draper behind the counter are very different from those which nature prescribes for the preservation and improvement of health. Moreover, even if their regular occupation did furnish them with active and various exercise, it might be doubted whether it would not be more injurious than beneficial if taken in an atmosphere such as we have described. The immediate and most important effect of exercise is more rapid respiration. If the air respired be pure, this is a positive good ; but if otherwise, , it is only to take into the lungs a more than ordinary quantity of the pernicious element. Hence, medical men universally direct us to take exercise in pure air, and if possible in the open air. So important is this seen to be, that our legislators are now devising means for providing London and other large towns with suitable places in which the inhabitants may take exercise, in connexion with a copious supply of fresh air. Alas! for the thousands of young men engaged in shops! Parks, and fields, and walks, can be of no avail to them, unless their hours of business are so curtailed as to allow them to share in the privileges of their fellow-citizens! At present they are denied all such enjoyments. It matters not whether the clear frost of a winter's day invite them to make the hard earth ring with a vigorous step; or the mild beauty of a summer's evening call with a softer voice; they dare not listen to either. The bright sun, the blue sky, and the fresh air, are blessings which God has bestowed upon the meanest of his creatures, but of which they, though among the noblest, are altogether deprived.
" Not for them returns
Or flocks, or herds ;"
6. Their unhappy lot
And joyless rest.” There is another feature in this system, the evil of which will at once be manifest.
The human body is so constituted as to bear only a limited amount of labour, whether that be physical or mental. This amount is not in all cases the same; but it is quite certain that occupation of one kind for sixteen or seventeen hours every day is far more than any constitution can long bear with impunity. Let it be observed that assistant-drapers, and we believe grocers also, must always be on their legs while in the shop, whether there be any customers to serve or not. To sit down for any period, however short, is universally forbidden. The chief reason for this is, that it is considered unbusiness-like, and thought to give customers the impression that there is but little business done. Be it also observed that while the mechanic or day-labourer has half-an-hour allowed him for breakfast, and an hour for dinner, out of his twelve hours of labour, the assistant-draper has no fixed time allowed for either. Five or ten minutes is the usual time spent at breakfast or tea; and dinner is hurriedly snatched as it can be during some momentary intermission of business. The idea of perfect mastication, or of sitting a little while after meals, would be regarded as preposterous. We may safely assert that in nineteen shops out of twenty, the average time spent at the
three meals, breakfast, dinner, and tea, is not more than half-an-hour. Doubtless, this statement will appear to some of our readers almost incredible; yet, it is not more strange than true.”
Let it also be remembered that the exertion of the draper is mental as well as physical. It involves a great deal of anxiety about matters, which indeed to a mere spectator, may seem very trivial, but which are to the person whom they concern really important. The nature of this anxiety may be best understood by an example : A lady enters a shop, and desires to look at some dresses or shawls. Now it would be supposed that the assistant-draper has merely to exhibit these articles in the most advantageous manner, and that it makes little difference to him, whether she happen to like one of them or not. Far otherwise, in some cases it is at the peril of losing his situation that he fails to persuade the lady to buy ; in nearly all cases, the frequent repetition of such failures is sure to produce such a catastrophe. It will be obvious that from this cause alone the mind of the young man must be alternately moved and agitated by fear and hope ; by fear of losing his situation, and by the hope, that by means of success as a salesman, he may render his services more valuable, and thus obtain a larger salary.
They who understand the nature of the human constitution know, that the body may be more thoroughly exhausted by mental emotions of this kind than by almost any mere physical labours.
Surely it will not be denied that a continuance of such occupation, in which the body is wearied at once by physical exertion and mental anxiety, prolonged for sixteen or seventeen hours every day-and that without any intervening periods of rest; without even that cessation from toil which the labouring man enjoys at the time of meals—must be, and is, altogether ruinous to the health of those who are compelled to endure it.
In addition to these greater and almost universal evils, there are others less important and less general, but which it is yet proper to mention.
Mr. Thackrah,* speaking of that feature in the occupation of shopkeepers which has lately been mentioned, gives as the result of " long standing, with great muscular exertion,” “varicose veins, particularly of the legs.”
An instance of this has come under the personal observation of the writer, in the case of a young man who has been prevented from holding any situation for nearly two years, and is, probably, disabled for life by a bad leg, which his physician ascribed in a very great degree to long standing behind the counter.
Dr. Hodgkin, in the lectures from which quotations have already been made, says, “ Among the various causes which prove injurious to the sense of sight, there is none which deserves more attention than the influence of artificial light.” He then goes on to state that “gas-light is the most injurious artificial light of which the force has as yet been investigated.” It is unnecessary to say that they who are kept in a shop until a late hour at night, are in a situation most exposed to the influence of this injurious agent.
Mr. Curtis, the well-known aurist, in a late communication to the “ Lancet," says that he has met with many cases of deafness caused by being engaged in business in shops for too many hours during the day.
Looking, then, at these things; remembering the impure atmosphere which the assistant-draper breathes, especially at night ; remembering that he is almost entirely deprived of exercise in the open air; that he is compelled to endure day after day excessive fatigue, produced by long standing and continued exertion; to say nothing of the less frequent evils which have been mentioned ;- can we wonder whenwe see, as we do, the fresh glow of health fade into the wan and sickly hue, and the once vigorous frame become feeble and diseased, subject to headachs, indigestion, and many other ills, which, but for this system, might never have been endured ? It is well known that a large number, perhaps nearly all, of the young men who come from the country to London for employment in this trade, are laid up
* For additional medical testimony see the Appendix at the end.